Do you have any current recruitment needs?

I left university in 1998.  Like many students, I had no money and even less idea what I was going to do next.  I had a law degree, but neither the means or the necessary inclination to take this career forward.  So a few weeks after graduating, I found myself wondering into a local temporary staffing agency, looking for work.  Any work. I quickly found myself answering the phones on their reception desk, and three weeks later they offered me a job as a trainee recruitment consultant.

With the promise of commission payments ringing in my ears, I accepted.  It took me a further few weeks to realise that my job involved little actual recruitment, and even less consulting.  What it did involve was sales calls.  Lots and lots of sales calls.  100 a day was my target. I was despatched to the in-house training school to learn how to telephone sell to best effect.  There was no training at all on recruiting, interviewing, or any of that stuff.  Just sales.

I learned how to get past the receptionist, by lying if I had too.  I learnt how to identify the decision maker.  How to ask for a visit.  How to overcome every objection.  I learned how to take people up the ladder of ‘yes’.  How to ask for the business.  I remember it all, very well indeed.  Partly the reason that I remember it so well was the sheer repetition of it.  It went a little like this:

Me:  Do you use recruitment agencies to help with your recruitment needs?

Fed up person on the other end of the phone:  Yes.

Me:  I am glad to hear that you see the benefits of using recruitment agencies.  Let me tell you…..

The main problem was this.  I was really bad at it.  My calls often went a bit more like this:

I am sorry to bother you but I wondered do you want any temporary workers at the moment do you have any needs that we can help you with no ok thanks then bye. 

My subsequent resignation after a few months was a great relief to both parties.

But there is another reason that I remember this stuff so well.  Because I get these same sales calls, every single day. It’s like someone recorded one of my own calls in the late nineties and it is echoing through the decades.

Some of the calls I receive are utterly random.  How do I recruit for logistics employees in the Midlands, when I work in healthcare in Yorkshire.  What would I do if I realised tomorrow that I needed a PA in London? Panic I suppose, as it would mean my company had relocated and I hadn’t noticed.   As the sales calls continue, so do the speculative CVs.  From agencies I don’t work with, from recruiters I don’t know, for jobs that I am not currently recruiting for, for roles that we don’t have in the company.  I regularly get an email from one agency, attaching up to five CVs for candidates that have no resemblance at all to my industry.  It is relentless.

I can only assume this stuff works, somehow.  Give enough typewriters, etc.  But in all the time that I have been working in HR, I’ve never replied to a spec email CV.  I have never passed a vacancy over in response to a cold call.  When I get asked if an agency I don’t know can visit me, which happens at least once a day, my answer is always no. Someone will undoubtedly come along and tell me that it’s not all about that.  It’s about starting a relationship, building dialogue for the future when there is the right role.  And maybe that is true, although that was not how I was targeted when I was training.

In this very changing world, this is an industry that I am not seeing changing much at all, especially when it comes to the business development approach.

If all this stuff about the hollowing out of the labour market holds true, and everything suggests that it will, this has profound implications for the recruitment agency industry.  Add on top of that the low barriers to entry to doing it all yourself through social recruiting and a big change, and fundamental challenge, is coming.  If we end up with a labour market that looks like an hourglass with high paid knowledge workers at the top, and people in low paid work that cannot be outsourced or automated at the bottom, this will impact many recruitment agencies.  The exec search firms will still do well at the top.  The agencies that supply the warehouse packer or the cleaner or the person to work on your reception to cover a two week holiday will probably also still survive and thrive.  The one thing we know of in our labour market is that there is plenty of low paid, atypical, flexible but insecure work.

But where does this leave the rest?  The stuff in the middle?  I would argue, increasingly threatened.

One of my favourite speakers is Gary Vaynerchuk.  He does a fantastic rant, available on YouTube, in which he tells companies that they need to start marketing their business in the year in which they live.  Not marketing their business like its 1998.

Here’s the thing.  I find the suppliers I need in the social space.   The employment solicitors I use I follow on twitter and through that I know what they are like.  The last time I needed their advice, I sent a DM.  When I needed a training provider and I didn’t have someone in my network already, I sent a tweet and got a recommendation from a social media contact who did.  When I needed to work with some leadership development folk, I engaged with people that I know through their tweets and their blogs and their shares, because through those I know them.  I am not alone in this.  But even if you are not sourcing your suppliers in the social world, are you finding them via a cold call?  Somehow, I doubt it.

The contingency model of recruitment does not work effectively.  The labour market is changing.  Work is changing.  Marketing is changing. Recruitment is changing.

I am not here to bash recruiters.  It is a very hard job. I know because I tried it and I couldn’t do it.  But I am saying that you need to find a new way, a 2014 way, to engage with potential clients.

Or, at the very least, could you just take me off the call sheet?

Chuck out some recruitment chintz (please)

The Candidate Experience begins with the application. From the first click on the ‘apply here’ button you are building a relationship, building dialogue. But before someone takes the step from casual browsing to becoming a candidate, they have to be engaged by the organisation, the opportunity, the advertisement itself.  They have to be inspired to take the action to get into the process.

I recently came across a truly awful job advert. I wanted to ring up the recruiter and shout at them.  Tell them that if you want to hire good people, attract talent for your place, that this was not the way to go about it.  Not today.  Not ever probably.

It started with one of my pet hates.

Interviews will take place on the 20th November. 

So if that top notch candidate that happens to have all of the experience and all of the skills, but just happens to be on holiday, out of the country, committed to something they just can’t shift, then you are happy to miss out? This sort of recruitment is all about the company and the hiring manager, with sod all concern for the candidate and their commitments, their existing job.

And then another one.

We will not accept any applications after the cut-off date.

Another reason to miss out on some top talent? They see your advert a little too late, but they are still interested in your place.  But you point to your recruitment and selection policy.  Process says no.

Followed by this: Candidates should apply as soon as possible as posts will be closed once sufficient applications are received.

Right then. So when you have reached some golden number, you are just going to close it then to any other potential talent.  Jolly good.

Then there was this: In order to minimise delays in the recruitment process please ensure your application is submitted with a valid email address for your referees, one of whom must be your current or most recent line manager. We will seek references prior to interview.

Okaaayyy. So I’m job hunting, which is probably like, you know, sensitive and confidential.  Likelihood of me asking my current line manager if she will be a referee for me for as I am thinking about leaving?  Approximately nil.

It is important to note, that all of this information was on the advert before the information about the role itself. I only carried on reading because I was already thinking about this blog post.  If I had been a candidate thinking about applying for the role I would have clicked off half way through the second paragraph.

And then there was this. Please note that we do not offer reimbursement of interview expenses.  I wasn’t going to ask to be honest.  Out of interest I asked our Recruitment Manager how many times a candidate had asked her for expenses during the last year.  The answer?  Once.  There is simply no need to include this on an advert.

The next bit was a three paragraph long information section that began….. Applications from job seekers who require Tier 2 sponsorship to work in the UK are welcome and will be considered alongside all other applications. However, non-EEA candidates (I couldn’t read any more of this section.  There could have been something more interesting further on. But I doubt it).

And naturally, there was a line saying that you could assume you haven’t been successful if you haven’t had a response within 14-days.  The application black hole, hated by all candidates.


Now, this job advert tells me plenty about the company. Probably things they hadn’t intended to tell me, but it told me all the same.  It tells me that they are all about the process.  It tells me that they are not flexible. It tells me that they don’t live in the real world.  And most importantly, if I had been thinking about working at this company, it tells me that I would never fit in there – which is a good thing to some extent as an application would have wasted everyone’s time.

I thought maybe this was just a poor example from a company that didn’t know any better. So I went off on a visit around a few job boards.  My conclusion is that it is a poor example, but it is far from the only one.

Here’s another example of excessively formal language and superfluous information. .

As a customer services officer you will require good communication skills, both written and verbal. You will investigate customer complaints, using both computer and paper files.

Did we really need the bits in italics?

I’ve heard all the stuff about the death of job boards and how in the war for talent it is all about the passive candidate.  But I still reckon we are going to be adverting jobs in one place or another for a little while yet.  The job ad is your shop window.  It is your chance to make a connection.  To begin the engagement.  To sell.  You, your place, what you have to offer.

We can do better than this.

When it comes to whether or not to put something in a recruitment advert, I’d suggest the following questions:

  • Do you need to say it now?
  • Do you need to say it to every candidate?
  • Do you need to say it at all, or is it blindingly obvious?
  • How would this make you feel if you were a potential applicant?
  • Does this sell the opportunity, does it sell your company and your culture?
  • Does the language talk to the reader like they are a real person, with a reasonable amount of common sense?

Maybe it is time to chuck out some recruitment chintz.

The Overqualified Candidate

Two different conversations have collided for me in recent weeks. One with a recruiter, frustrated that their client didn’t hire the best candidate that they could. The other, with a discouraged job seeker who was experiencing rejection for having too much experience. Two sides of the same coin: the overqualified candidate.

The recruiter told a tale that a little sad. Of putting forward a top notch candidate. Bang on the brief. Who ticked all the boxes. A certainty, surely. But after the interview, the client said no. Because the candidate probably wouldn’t stay. Would get frustrated. They probably couldn’t meet their high expectations. This candidate represented risk. And they would have to do this recruitment stuff, all over again. So instead, they went with the safer, not quite so experienced and qualified candidate, not bringing quite so much to the table.

The job seeker I talked too was despondent. He had worked so hard, over the years, to gain his experience, enhance his skills. The networking events, the evening school study, the conferences and seminars. And of course reading all of those management books. He’d done everything he could to be the best candidate that he could be, only to find himself rejected for the same.

Overqualified is the bitterest pill to swallow. Tell a candidate he is missing a qualification, he can study for it. Tell a candidate that he is missing some experience, he can try his hardest to fill the gap. If you are under qualified, under experienced, there is a positive action you can take. If you are overqualified, you have fewer options other than to hide your light.

But here’s the thing. When it comes to hiring an overqualified candidate, then maybe those fearful hiring managers are right; maybe they won’t stay. And just maybe, that is okay. Because in the meantime, they might do awesome stuff. Challenge the business, challenge the status quo, challenge you.

Recruitment is always a leap of faith, for both parties. That you have made the right call, that there is going to be that elusive fit, that it will work out for the best. Recruitment always involves risk. After all, however good the process, the tests, the presentations, the company information, we only see just a little bit of each other, behaving at our best. The one thing that, more than anything else, reduces the risk of the wrong recruitment decision for both parties, is honesty. Not fancy psychometrics, not lengthy processes where the candidate meets every man and his canine. Not dinner with the team.
Just telling the truth about what it is like at your place, what the opportunity really is all about. The brutal truth, not the shiny advertising version. Truth from the candidate too, about what they will bring and why they want it.

So for the overqualified candidate, there are some thoughts on my career blog about practically dealing with the issue.

And to the hiring manager or the recruitment manager, I say only this. Be brave. Take a risk. Do the difficult thing. The worst thing that can happen is you have to do a little more recruitment stuff in the future. If you are not sure of their motivations then just ask them.

Or ask yourself, what are you really afraid of?

Disappointment and Disconnection

This weekend I had a lesson in what happens when expectations disconnect with reality. All the time, we create ourselves little visions in our mind about how things are going to be, what is going to happen. We have a story, a plan, a dream, all worked out.

Disappointment occurs in the gap between what we expected, planned for, hoped for, and the reality that is.

I had booked a night away, in small cosy, quiet pub. On the website, it looked friendly, warm, relaxing. The pictures hinted at just a little luxury. Only it wasn’t what I had expected. The reality did not match up with the story in my mind, did not match up with the marketing. It simply didn’t meet expectations. And disappointment was the result.

Because the website had neglected to mention it was also a live music venue. And that they would have a band on until very late. And that when the band cranked up, you pretty much had to join in, because it was so loud the furniture in the room vibrated. I asked the manager why they didn’t warn the guests in advance, in case it wasn’t their sort of thing. He told me that it was standard policy to tell you when you checked in.

Naturally, the work analogy occurs.

Because reality and expectation often differ here, too.

It is easy to be influenced by the fancy brand. The shiny website, the recruitment agency pitch, the attractive advert. Often, recruitment practices misdirect the eye. The reality you find on arrival isn’t the same as the one seen in the shop window.

I thought that the hotel manager’s suggestion to me was strange. That you would tell someone when they arrived, when it was too late to change their mind, go somewhere else, important information that would influence their decision whether to stay or not. But I have seen this happen in organisations and I am sure you have too. We present a rosy picture during the recruitment process, but the induction tells the real story of the day to day.

And then what happens? The new employee doesn’t engage, doesn’t believe, and ultimately, doesn’t stay. Just like we didn’t at the hotel.

The answer is obvious. Tell it like it really is. Make it real. Make it honest. In your story, tell of the challenges and the problems as well as the great stuff and the shiny stuff. It is simple, really.

Some people will choose to opt out. Some people will decide it’s not their sort of thing, and go some place else. But the ones that opt in, with the fullness of information, are more likely to be happy with the choice that they have made.

Let’s do good recruitment stuff.

Culture Misfit

We like people that are like us. And we like to recruit people that are like us. People that will ‘fit in’.

The recruiters will have heard it a hundred times.

It’s all about the cultural fit.
It’s really important that they can fit in here.
The culture fit is as important as the experience

I’ve heard this said and I have said it myself.

But let’s just revisit this notion, for a moment. When we take this approach we are often really saying is that we want people that are all the same. That we want someone like the last person. That we want someone like the rest of the team. Because that is how they will fit in, get on, around here.

The theory on culture fit says that it is a good thing. That it means the individual and the organisation are aligned, that their values correspond. Then people are more productive, engaged, motivated, satisfied. I get that.

But when we use the term ‘culture fit’ we aren’t always thinking about values. We are not thinking about the long term, the strategic angle. Instead we think of personality, we think of people. We think about whether the person has worked in a similar environment with similar challenges. We think about whether we will get on with them, day to day. Whether they will slot into the existing team just fine.

You know that quote ‘you do what you have always done and you will get what you have always got’? Well this applies here too.

If you recruit what you have always recruited, then you will organisationally probably get what you have always got. Recruiting for culture fit may make it nice and harmonious in the team. Recruiting for culture fit might mean that the new starter slots straight in. It might mean that retention levels are good. But there are less positive aspects too. Homogeneity. Monotony. Groupthink. A lack of diversity.

And do we even know what we mean by cultural fit anyway? It is all a little bit fuzzy, fluffy, vague. We think we will know it when we see it. But maybe that just isn’t good enough.

Maybe what we really need is to recruit someone else, someone different, someone who won’t just fit into the way we do things around here. Hire for culture misfit. Because what we need is some new thinking. Some diversity. Some challenge. Someone to mix it up.

We don’t need some more of the same old.

This suggestion isn’t easy. I’ve blogged before about applying for a role somewhere outside of your cultural comfort zone. And I’ve worked somewhere too that I didn’t really fit. Somewhere that I was out of step. It was like wearing a badly fitting pair of shoes every single day. Hiring someone without any consideration of how they will fit in, settle in, get on, feel okay, won’t work. But if you want change, innovation, a little disruption, maybe try hiring for cultural misfit.

There is something wrong with recruitment

Last year, I got involved with the CIPD Hackathon. It lead to the development of a Hack called ‘chuck out your chintz’ which suggested that HR teams should reflect on some of the non value add activities they were doing, or even think about stopping them altogether.

The Hack had in mind administrative, shared service, policy type stuff when it was first conceived. But recently, I was asked if I could do a talk about whether the hack could be applied to recruitment. To be honest, I just wasn’t sure. There is plenty of process in recruitment, but was it chintz or was it necessary, useful process? So I sent a tweet. This one.

And my timeline filled up. I was interested in thoughts from anyone. Recruiters and candidates alike. But it wasn’t the process type stuff that people focused on. It was the human stuff. Or the lack of it.

A selection of the replies I received are below.

And this evocative one from Doug Shaw.

The sad thing? I wasn’t surprised by any of this. Because we know it. We know that feedback is so important to candidates. We know that everyone hates automated responses and the application black hole. We know it is appalling to waste candidates time.

When it comes to recruitment, there are plenty of conversations. Conferences. Books, blogs, specialists. Seminars, webinars, twitter chats. But are things changing, enough? Are things really good enough?

I know there are good people and good companies doing good stuff in recruitment. But everything I hear suggests that there are still many, many companies getting it so wrong. And many, many fed up and demoralised candidates. I was one myself, not so long ago.

I’m not pretending I have the answer to this problem. But I am interested in what you think. Because it doesn’t feel like it should be that difficult….. but for some reason we are making it so.

The Worst Interview in the World, Maybe

Yesterday, I was sharing some recruitment war stories with colleagues. Discussions of interviews and applications that didn’t go so well. The one that stands out in my memory was an application I received years ago for a position in the security team of a well known bank, in which the offer letter confirmed three day’s notice would be required for any interview, as they needed time to arrange a day pass from prison.

I guess most people have at some time applied for a job or been for an interview that didn’t go well. The one you would rather forget. But as they say, everything is a learning experience, and I certainly learnt from mine. So I thought I would share the story.

It was about twelve years ago. At the time, I was working as a HR officer in a mainly employee relations role. My job revolved around discipline, grievance, employment tribunals, personal injury claims, dismissals and trade unions. A typical day might involve hearing a grievance in the morning, an appeal against dismissal in the afternoon, and a little accident investigation in between. It was the kind of job in which you became completely immersed. I did everything from counting pallets at the top of a scissor lift in the stocktake, to being called out to a serious accident at 4am on a Sunday morning and climbing all over the scene. We had the it all going on there. I remember a call one morning that went a little bit like this. ‘Gem, can you come to site as soon as possible please? Someone has just tried to deliberately run over his team leader in a fork lift truck’. I loved it, but it burnt me out. So I started looking. And got an interview for a HR Consultant role in an outsourced call centre.

I got a new suit. I polished my shoes. I set off early, and arrived in plenty of time. And then, it all started to go wrong……

I knew as soon as I walked in, I didn’t fit there. They were all about motivational quotes. There were clouds painted on the ceiling. Bean bags in the training room to lie down on in between sessions. Let me tell you that this never happened during training on how to drive a fork lift truck. I was a fish out of water.

And then, the interview. There were no meeting rooms. It was all done on squishy chairs in an open plan space. On the next table was someone having their lunch flicking through a magazine. To the other side, what appeared to be a performance review going on. Over the way, someone I actually knew, which was a little awkward.

And once the questions started, I could think of nothing sensible to say. Whatever the interviewer asked me, I could not say anything that did not involve the words grievance or disciplinary. It just kept coming out.

Interviewer: How do you manage your team?
Me: I try not to discipline them.

Interviewer: Give me an example of how you have delivered change
Me: I taught all the managers how to do really good grievance hearings

And so on. And downhill. The more rubbish I talked, the more rubbish I talked.
The rejection letter came the very next morning. I suspect it was being typed before I hit the street. I can almost imagine the interviewer running to the post room, waving the letter aloft ‘quick, get this in the post – get rid of the discipline freak!’

But I did learn some things from the process.

I learnt that I should just have called it. We both knew I wasn’t right for them, and they weren’t right for me, but we carried on with the questions and answers, regardless.

I learnt the importance of putting a candidate at ease, and explaining the process to them in advance, especially if it is going to be a little outside of the norm.

I learnt the importance of cultural fit. On paper I had all of the things. But I would never have been at home there.

I learnt that sometimes, you should just stop talking.

I learnt that there are no circumstances in which one can rise in a ladylike fashion from a bean bag whilst wearing a skirt.

Now, I’ve told you mine, so tell me yours……